When Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) officially opened its doors in 1999, the children's hospital consisted of just three Cambodian doctors, ten nurses, numerous medical volunteers - and one hospital bed. Today, AHC has successfully realised its original vision of being a "world-class hospital for Cambodians, run by Cambodians".
In the spring of 2022, we were given our first tour of AHC's open spaces - and we couldn't help but be amazed. The sheer assets of medical and social services offered in this paediatric hospital were hard to grasp. We would not have expected this in a country that, despite progress and international support, still does not have a universal healthcare system worthy of the name.
Our astonishment is due to the shock that the renowned Japanese photographer Kenro Izu experienced during a visit to Siem Reap in the 1990s when he realised the catastrophic state of Cambodia's health system. Due to this shock, he founded the charity organisation ("Friends Without A Border") shortly after his visit to raise funds for the later Angkor Hospital for Children and two other children's hospitals.
In terms of healthcare, Cambodia still isn't in a satisfactory state: problematic hygienic conditions, an insufficient supply of medicines and outdated medical equipment continue to pose a significant risk to the Cambodian population. The number of maternal and newborn deaths is still alarmingly high by international standards, there is a strong urban-rural and rich-poor divide, and the quality of services provided is often poor.
But the situation has improved steadily since the 1990s, thanks to organisations like Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC).
The AHC grew rapidly in the first few years - despite the significant challenges- starting with only a small outpatient department. It expanded capacity and services constantly to meet the needs of the hundreds of children who arrived daily.
Between 2000 and 2005, an emergency department, a surgical department, a dental clinic, an eye clinic and other departments were added, making the AHC one of the few children's hospitals in the country to offer such specialised services. Outside the hospital, the AHC introduced programmes to address preventive health issues at the root and improve the health literacy of rural communities.
By 2007, the hospital, which had been a teaching hospital from the beginning, had trained nearly 1500 Cambodian doctors, nurses and health workers in paediatrics and treated roughly half a million children.
The founding vision of Kenro Izu mentioned at the beginning of this article was realised in 2013 when the AHC officially became a locally run, independent organisation firmly rooted in Siem Reap and led by a skilled Cambodian team. Following the transformation, the hospital continued to expand and position itself at the forefront of paediatric healthcare in Cambodia, opening the country's first neonatal intensive care unit, treating its first cancer patients and achieving other major successes with national significance.
Meanwhile, the AHC evolved from a hospital to a health organisation that employs more than 400 Cambodian staff, trains countless more and fills gaps in healthcare. For AHC, this means providing speciality services such as oncology, cardiology, neurology and other secondary and tertiary services rarely available elsewhere. By promoting such specialities, AHC can accelerate progress in the Cambodian health system without undermining or duplicating services.
Education has been relevant to AHC since its inception and will remain so. AHC will continue to educate the country's new generation of health leaders and expand its capacity-building activities in the medical and nursing fields. By replicating AHC's impactful programmes and increasing health literacy in the community, health outcomes can be improved across the country.